On Sept. 21, 2015, Hillary Clinton tweeted a link to a story describing the 5,000% overnight hike in price of a drug called Daraprim. Shortly after, biotech company stocks took a huge hit.
The excited response to the news by senior policy advisor Ann O’Leary — “
FYI – We have started the war with Pharma!!” — was released after Wikileaks published Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails. The campaign has not confirmed the authenticity of the emails.
The emails give a glimpse into the internal campaign conversations about the pharmaceutical industry.
Later that day, a conversation began about whether or not the campaign wanted to weigh in on Dr. Robert Califf, who at that point was nominated for FDA commissioner (he has since assumed the role). Passing along a New York Times article that looked at Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry, an outside consultant asked, “Do we want to weigh in on this?”
Off the bat, the consensus seemed to be that the campaign would keep an eye on it. A few days later, press secretary Brian Fallon asked for an update.
“As we consider fights that fit into the larger themes we are trying to promote, this seems like a good fight to have. Plus, the VP would be in a box of having to support this nominee,” he wrote to the thread of policy advisors and consultants.
In response, O’Leary said:
“Califf the Obama nominee does have real ties to the drug industry – Chris Jennings is calling a few people for me to learn more so we don’t tip our hand directly. We are clean on Clinton Admin FDA Commissioner – it was David Kessler, an academic who had run a teaching hospital – and best known for taking on big tobacco. We could certainly signal that we want someone willing to stand up to Pharma (in the same way Kessler stood up to Tobacco).
BUT – I want to do a little more digging and due diligence before we hit this guy. Having been through a nomination fight with my husband (in which he lost), this is personal and messy and horrible on the person nominated and their families – so I don’t take attacking this guy lightly.”
Over the last year, the Clinton campaign has actively taken a stance against price hikes, most recently announcing plans to address “unjustified” price increases.
The campaign ultimately did not take a stance on Califf’s nomination, but the conversation suggests that having an FDA commissioner who would “stand up to pharma” as former FDA commissioner David Kessler stood up to tobacco in the 1990s could be a priority if Clinton were elected.
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